Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: legal; lawful; licit.

legal; lawful; licit. Legal” is the broadest term, meaning either (1) “of or pertaining to law, falling within the province of law,” or (2) “established, permitted, or not forbidden by law.” These two senses are used with about equal frequency. “Lawful” and “licit” share sense 2 of “legal“: “according to or not contrary to law, permitted by law.” “Lawful” is quite common {driving in a lawful manner}. The least frequent of these terms is “licit” {the licit use of force}, which usually occurs in direct contrast to “illicit.” “Lawful” should not be used in sense 1 of “legal,” as it sometimes is — e.g.: “The judgment must be affirmed if there is sufficient evidence to support it on any lawful [read ‘legal‘] theory, and every fact issue sufficiently raised by the evidence must be resolved in support of the judgment.” For information about the Language-Change Index click here. Quotation of the Day: “Good speech is the outcome of education and training always and everywhere, even in primitive and unsophisticated societies. Man does not learn to speak well by instinct as he learns to breathe, to eat and drink, or to walk. His superiority over bird and beast comes from his almost limitless educability, his individual power of adjustment, his adaptability, and his ability to store up wisdom and hand it on from generation to generation.” Simeon Potter, Modern Linguistics 159 (2d ed. 1967).
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